World Family Indicators

General Methods

This section of the 2015 World Family Map report provides information on 16 indicators of family well-being in four areas—family structure, family socioeconomics, family process, and family culture—across 49 countries that are home to a majority of the world’s population.

The indicators for the World Family Map 2015 demonstrate the diversity of families and nations in which children are being raised. Every region of the world is home to distinct patterns of family structure, socioeconomics, family process, and culture, and there is often variation within regions. Major changes in families are taking place around the world. Marriage is becoming less common almost everywhere, while cohabitation is becoming more common in select regions. The world has made progress toward the Millennium Development Goal for reducing malnutrition; however, families continue to face stressors such as extreme poverty and parental unemployment. Parents and extended family members have limited control over some of these problems, but one avenue through which they can directly facilitate strong family relationships and positive child outcomes is parent-child communication, which takes daily efforts and participation. Read More »

Data Sources

Country-level Sources

When data were not available from an international survey, country-level data sources were sought. Examples include data from national statistics bureaus and country-level surveys.

Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS)

DHS is a survey of more than 90 developing nations, focusing on population and health information. This report uses the most recent data available for each country, ranging from 2001 to 2014.Read More »

Family Structure

Key Findings: Children’s lives are influenced by the resources and care provided by parents, siblings, and other adults that they live with, as well as by whether their parents are married. The World Family Map reports these key indicators of family structure in this section.

  • Although two-parent families are becoming less common in many regions, they still constitute a majority of families around the globe. Children are particularly likely to live in two-parent families in Asia and the Middle East. They are more likely to live with one or no parent in the Americas, Europe, Oceania, and sub-Saharan Africa than in other regions.
  • Extended families, which include parent(s) and kin from outside the nuclear family, are common in Asia, the Middle East, Central/South America, and sub-Saharan Africa, but not in other regions of the world.
  • Marriage rates are declining in many regions. Adults are most likely to be married in Asia and the Middle East, and are least likely to be married in Central/South America, with Africa, Europe, North America, and Oceania falling in between. Cohabitation (living together without marriage) is more prevalent among couples in Europe, North America, Oceania, and, to an especially high degree, Central/South America.
  • Childbearing rates are declining worldwide. Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest fertility rates of any region; for instance, in Nigeria, a woman gives birth to an average of 6.0 children over her lifetime. Moderate rates of fertility are found in the Middle East, while the Americas and Oceania have levels of fertility that are sufficient to replace, but not expand, a country’s population in the next generation (about 2.1). Below-replacement-level fertility is widespread in East Asia and Europe.
  • Amid the decline in marriage rates, childbearing outside of marriage—or nonmarital childbearing—is increasing in many regions. Central/South America and Western Europe have the world’s highest rates of nonmarital childbearing, with moderate rates found in North America, Oceania, and Eastern Europe. Countries in sub-Saharan Africa display varying rates of nonmarital childbearing, and the lowest rates are found in Asia and the Middle East.

Living Arrangements

Family living arrangements—how many parents are present in the household and whether the household includes other relatives—shape the character and contexts of children’s lives and influence the human resources available to them. As evidenced in Figures 2 and 3, which are derived from IPUMS, DHS, and national censuses, the living arrangements that children experience vary substantially around the globe. And the distribution of children across these various types of family living arrangements is changing over time. The family strengths that are described in a subsequent section can be found in each type of family.Read More »

Family Socioeconomics

Key Findings: Socioeconomic indicators measure the material, human, and government resources that promote family and child well-being. To measure families’ socioeconomic status, here we examine indicators related to poverty, undernourishment (as a marker of material deprivation), parental education and employment, and public family benefits.

  • In this study, poverty is calculated as absolute poverty (the percentage of the population living on less than 1.25 U.S. dollars per day) and as relative child poverty (the percentage of children living in households earning less than half their country’s median household income). The prevalence of absolute poverty in the countries in our study ranges from 0 in several countries to 88 percent in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The incidence of relative poverty for children is between 6 percent and 31 percent, with the lowest rates found in Europe and Oceania and the highest rates found in Central/South America.
  • In the Middle East, North America, Oceania, and Europe, less than 5 percent of the population is undernourished. Families in Africa, Asia, and South America face the highest risk of undernourishment.
  • Levels of parental education, as shown by completion of secondary education, vary widely around the world. The lowest levels are found in Africa, followed by Asia, the Middle East, and Central/South America, while Europe boasts the highest levels of parental education.
  • Between 38 and 97 percent of parents are employed worldwide, with the highest parental employment rates found in Asia. The Middle East shows consistently high rates, and medium to high rates are found in the Americas and Europe.
  • Public family benefits across countries represented in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) range from less than 1 percent up to 4 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). According to the limited available data, Europe and Oceania offer the most generous benefits.


The ongoing fallout from the Great Recession of 2008 and sluggish economic recovery have placed a stressful financial burden on families with children around the world. Poverty is a well-documented risk factor for many negative outcomes in childhood. Children growing up in poverty face a higher risk of social, emotional, behavioral, and physical health problems than children from wealthier backgrounds.21 Children who are poor also score lower on cognitive tests and are less likely to be ready to enter school than their more affluent peers.22 Read More »

Family Processes

Key Findings: Family process indicators describe the interactions between members of a family, including their relationships, views on the roles of family members, time spent together, and satisfaction with family life. It is challenging to obtain data on family processes that allow for international comparisons, but there has been some improvement in this situation with the release of new data.

Here we discuss several indicators of family process that can influence child and family well-being: self-reported family satisfaction; views on partners’ contribution to household income; how regularly parents and children discuss school; how often families eat meals together; and how much time parents and teenagers spend talking. There is wide variation on these measures across the few countries that have data available.Read More »

Family Culture

Key Findings: Family culture refers to the family-related attitudes and norms a country’s citizens express. Data suggest that adults take a range of progressive and conservative positions on family issues.

  • Attitudes toward voluntary single motherhood differ from one region to another, with adults in the Americas, Europe, and Oceania leaning more toward acceptance (with a high acceptance rate of 80 percent in Spain), and those in Asia, the Middle East, and sub-Saharan Africa leaning more toward rejection (as evidenced by an acceptance rate of only 2 percent in Egypt and Jordan).
  • About half of adults agree that one parent can raise a child as well as two parents, with support ranging from 24 percent in China to 69 percent in South Africa.
  • In all of the countries featured in this study with available data, most adults—from 52 percent in Chile to 84 percent in Taiwan—believe that working mothers can establish relationships with their children that are just as good as those of stay-at-home mothers.
  • Most adults worldwide report that they completely trust their families; however, levels of trust vary by region and country, with 63 percent of adults reporting they completely trust their families in the Netherlands, and 99 percent reporting this to be the case in Egypt. It should be noted that the willingness of adults to affirm the term “completely” (regardless of the topic) varies across countries.

To shed light on adults’ attitudes toward family life around the world, we relied on data from the World Values Survey (WVS), collected between 2000 and 2013, and the 2012 edition of the International Social Survey Programme (ISSP) surveys on four cultural indicators in 32 countries: 1) approval of single motherhood, 2) agreement that one parent can bring up a child as well as two parents, 3) approval of working mothers, and 4) presence of family trust.71 Given that respondents in different countries may interpret the questions and response categories somewhat differently, and that population representation of the surveys varies from country to country, the WVS and ISSP do not allow us to draw a perfect comparison between countries.Read More »